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How to be a Tourism-friendly City: lessons learned from the Tourism-friendly Cities URBACT network

Edited on

30 August 2022
Read time: 3 minutes

As the work of the TOURISM-FRIENDLY CITIES (TFC) Network is reaching its official project end in September 2022, we reflect on its main outputs and lesson learned. TFC started in September 2019 as an Action Planning Network funded through the URBACT III programme. It meant to support the nine member cities explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism.

The world and the tourism industry had a different pace then, as captured by the baseline study we developed for the network’s debut. And while the reality of excessive tourism quickly changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the overarching challenge remained constant: how to create integrated and inclusive strategies which can keep a balance between the needs of the local community, in terms of quality of life and of services available, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level. Below you can find how the TFC cities responded to this complex challenge:

1. The Integrated Actions Plans (IAP) of TFC Cities : strategic and action-oriented city strategies for driving sustainable tourism

The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) is the main output of cities participating in Action Planning Networks such as the Tourism-friendly Cities one, financed through the URBACT programme. IAPs define the local actions to be carried out in response to the sustainable urban development challenges addressed in the network. It is a way for cities to develop their local development strategy using the URBACT method, which is informed by principles of integration, participation and action learning.

Each of the TFC IAPs follows the city’s commitment on the transition towards sustainable tourism. The starting point for this transition for each city varies significantly. For example, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dubrovnik, Krakow, Venice, were in a state of over-tourism, hinting that tourist volumes were exceeding the carrying capacity of the city that could ensure a balanced approach between tourism industry and residents needs. The remaining six cities, were in a “tourism-friendly” state, meaning there is still room for growth of the tourism sector, even though seasonality was already impacting the quality of life for residents. In addition to this distinction, the pandemic a significant shift at local level, from a strategic mindset, to an emergency-response one, focused on recovery of the tourism sector. Partially because of this, some of TFC IAP have much more of a strategic character, while others are more action-oriented. Thus, for Braga, Druskininkai, Krakow, Genoa, and Rovaniemi the IAP has a moe strategic character, while Dún Laoghaire, Dubrovnik, Caceres and Venice IAPS focus on how to develop the pre-existing tourism strategy in a participatory and integrated manner.

The final IAP versions of TFC cities are available in projects library here.

2. The TFC manifesto- 10 practical recommendation for every city that wants to support the development of sustainable tourism

The report summarizes 10 principles for making the impact of tourism more sustainable on cities, based on the hands-on experience and lessons learned of the TFC cities. It includes highlights of the small scale actions that each city implemented in order to test approaches for making the transition to a sustainable tourism model possible. The report aims to serve as a practical resource for urban practitioners connected to the topic of sustainable tourism.  The report’s recommendations were also validated during the TFC final meeting in Venice with several peers- ranging from European city authorities, Eurocities and the UNWTO.

3. Legacy of the URBACT Local Groups and the co-production process of the Integrated Action Plan (IAP)

The URBACT Local Group (ULG) is a participatory mechanism, aiming at sharing decision-making powers between the local public authority and stakeholders from academia, businesses, civil society and citizen groups. It is a key component of the URBACT method, aimed at supporting an integrated approach for developing the IAP.

With tourism being a trans-sectoral field, the establishment of the ULGs was crucial for enabling a mechanism for strategic decision-making. In fact, as described in the baseline study, one of the core challenges of all TFC cities was finding a governance model for supporting the transition towards sustainable tourism. In many cases, the ULG acted as a laboratory for such a governance model, in addition to its core role of enabling a participatory approach.

Based on the experience of working in a ULG set-up in the past two years and a half, we already see emerging practices of several TFC cities towards long-term governance model. For example, in Braga, based on the experience of the TFC ULG, the city is now considering forming a Destination Management Organisation (DMO) to manage Braga as a sustainable tourism destination. In Krakow, the ULG was formed based on the pre-existing informal structure of the Krakow Tourism Forum, a body of 63 key tourism stakeholders. By adding new stakeholders in this mix and a new meeting formats, Krakow ULG managed to consolidate the partnership-oriented way in order to make challenging decisions on the recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect of the war in Ukraine on the city’s tourism industry, and how to change the strategic orientation of the city towards sustainable tourism. The work of the Krakow ULG will continue after the official end of TFC, carrying on the Tourism Forum format, as well as new responsibilities of overseeing the implementation of Krakow’s IAP.

Also, for the cities that were participating for the first time in an URBACT project, such as Druskininkai and Rovaniemi, the ULG set-up was one of the most valuable elements of using the URBACT method. It enabled a new way of working and a forum where the principles of integrated approach could be translated. For example, in the case of Druskininkai, this was overall reflected in the contributions they made throughout the project, the number of ULG members attending the projects transnational meetings and the ambition and impact of their SSA.

4. Trust and capacity building, as a cornerstone for the urban integrated approach

Enabling city stakeholders critically think and act using the urban integrated development principles  translates oftentimes in building the capacities to do so. Stakeholder engagement, collaboration at horizontal and vertical level or having place-based approach are not standard competences of neither public servant, nor other city stakeholders. Much of the transnational work of the TFC network was focused on building capacities for co-producing an integrated action plan, sometimes using the methods outlined in the URBACT toolbox 

Two factors were essential for capacity building: the peer-learning environment and a focus on relationship building, and therefore trust-building. The TFC cities managed to form strong bonds and friendships, that proved essential during the pandemic when most of the work moved online. Next to the ULG set-up, transnational network activities were regarded by all city partners as the highest added value of an URBACT project and of the process of peer-to-peer learning.

And so, with the action planning journey of Tourism-friendly Cities ending, an exciting new episode opens up. It is one of implementing the visions and actions captured in each of TFC Integrated Action Plans, but also of other cities hopefully building on the knowledge that was generated. Here is to hoping that the TFC manifesto will guide more actions for driving sustainable tourism in many communities across Europe and beyond.

By Anamaria Vrabie, Lead Expert for the URBACT Tourism-friendly cities Network